TNW, Patna, April 13. Several prominent activists and economists including Jene Derez–visiting professor at Department of Economics, Ranchi University–have urged Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to provide ‘emergency food assistance’ on much larger scale in the state. In a letter, the activists while appreciating the cash transfer to migrant workers requested the CM to extend the scope of Public Distribution System (PDS) coverage and arrange community kitchens especially for urban poor.
The letter said, “universalising the PDS in rural areas and urban slums may not seem like an urgent matter since PDS coverage in Bihar is already supposed to be close to universal (84%). However, the actual coverage is barely 70%, because of population increase since 2011, ignored by the central government. Even if only one third of the excluded 30% consists of households vulnerable to hunger, this would mean that 10% of the population of the state (about 13 million persons, based on projected 2019 population) is exposed to hunger at this time. This is bound to take a lasting toll on the health and well being of the people of Bihar – it cannot be allowed.”
The lock down has put enormous burden on the economically strained populace of the state. Bereft of livelihood, the daily wage laborers, street vendors, skilled worker, helpers and other vulnerable groups have been struggling to feed themselves. Moreover, the return of lakhs of migrant workers–most of them the sole bread earner of their families– have worsen the scenario. Besides stories of unprecedented hardships, several deaths, allegedly due to starvation, have already been reported.
“There is urgent and dire need of relief measures such as universal distribution of food grains and cooked meal for urban poor as the lock down has been increasing turning into humanitarian crisis. Many hand to mouths sections of the societies are already on the verge of starvation,” Mahendra Yadav, one of the activists told Thenewsweb.
In this backdrop, Jene Dreze has recently penned an article in which he strongly put forth the case of releasing excess stocks of food grains from FCI godowns. He wrote, “In short, food transfers are bound to play a big role in keeping poor people alive in the next few months. Food schemes such as the PDS and mid-day meals are in place in most villages, it is mainly a matter of reinforcing them. For this to happen, the central government must unlock the godowns and give plenty of food to the states. Never mind if the step takes the fiscal deficit a notch higher due to muddled accounting.”
The letter has also outlined, “To start with, we feel that the Bihar government should request additional food grain allocations from the central government, free of cost (or at NFSA prices). The food grain stocks of the Food Corporation of India are humongous (nearly 80 million tonnes on 1 March 2020), and are expected to grow further after rabi procurement. A special food grain quota could be used by the Bihar government to provide food rations to households that do not have a ration card, as well as for other emergency relief measures such as community kitchens. In fact, we estimate that Bihar would require just over two million tonnes of extra food grain to cover the entire left-out population in rural areas and urban slums under the PDS at standard NFSA rates (5 kg/person/month) for a whole year.”
The letter highlighted the need of appropriate monitoring of PDS functioning, as ‘it is likely to be the most crucial lifeline in next few months’.